Archive for ‘Netanyahu’

July 20, 2018

US Effectively Ends Israel-Palestine Mediation

Back in December, I wrote that the Trump administration’s formal embrace of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital told us a lot about the kind of Israeli-Palestinian agreement they would put on the table. It would be close to the Netanyahu regime’s view.

The US administration still has not released such a proposal but as things have heated up between Gaza and Israel, the three key US officials on Israel-Palestine besides President Trump –  – have penned an op-ed that could have been written by Netanyahu or pretty much any Likudnik. It is a full-throated endorsement of the right-wing Israeli view of the situation with Gaza. In the whole op-ed, Israel is not an actor; it is only acted upon. The implication is Israel shares zero responsibility for the broken and deadly situation.

The reality is quite different. Neither Hamas nor the Government of Israel have been willing to negotiate – directly or through intermediaries – to make the kinds of concessions that would bring about a substantive change in the strategic situation. The instability, suffering, PTSD, and dead that are part of the status quo are a choice (contra the Likud view). The parties could pursue negotiations and change the reality in which they live. But they both have to make concessions.

What concessions you might ask? I think the Int’l Crisis Group has laid it out in great detail; I’d urge you to read their brief closely, both in terms of what it would take and in terms of the low odds of success:

This leaves one other main option, aside from war or continued escalations, and that is to have an intra-Palestinian reconciliation deal under which the PA fully takes over governance in Gaza, relieving Hamas of responsibility for the Gaza economy and providing Israel with an acceptable partner in Gaza with which it can cooperate on development and easing the blockade (Israel is unlikely to fully lift the blockade, even after the PA takes over).

Crisis Group is not optimistic, but the brief does offer a nuanced understanding of the situation on the ground and a reasoned consideration of the policy options. Kushner et al, the ones actually leading US policy, offer nothing of the sort.

In academic parlance, the United States has long been a ‘biased’ mediator in this conflict, closely allied with one of the parties to the dispute. This WaPo op-ed is beyond that; it offers no hint of a United States as mediator of any sort.

August 3, 2011

The 1967 Line

So despite lecturing (and here and here) President Obama about the audacity of suggesting “The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states,” reports suggest Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now willing to accept U.S phrasing in an effort to draw the Palestinian Authority away from a UN push for recognition in September.

Let’s be clear: the Netanyahu government is now willing to accept the very lines it said were “indefensible.” Of course the lines were never indefensible. (Never mind that Obama’s phrasing of May 19, 2011, was entirely consistent with past Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.)

In exchange, Netanyahu apparently wants agreement that Israel will be able to annex settlement blocs (and reports suggest the US agrees, not surprising given past talks and the Bush-Sharon letter of 2004. That is why Obama’s phrasing included the term “swaps” in the first place.)

Netanyahu also wants:

Officials in Jerusalem have said that the offer only stands if the Palestinians are prepared to recognise Israel as a Jewish state and retract their application for recognition of an independent Palestinian state, which is to be submitted to the United Nations General Assembly next month.

Republican Jewish Coalition petition

I found it especially amusing that I received a robocall yesterday from the Republican Jewish Coalition decrying Obama’s call to return to the 1967 lines. The total inaccuracy of the RJC call was especially pathetic given the Israeli government’s apparent change of heart. Suffice to say, the RJC web site has changed and the 1967 lines story has been downgraded.

The PA seems to be waiting for Netanyahu to use the 1967 lines phrase publicly. PA officials remain opposed to the Jewish state language.

July 14, 2011

Update on US-Israel-PA (talk)

Some skeletal notes from a talk I gave last night:

1. US-Israel alliance

The common explanations for the alliance are shared values and shared government type (democracies); domestic interest groups in the US, including American Jews and Evangelical Christians; and strategic relations based on counter-terrorism, intelligence sharing, developing and testing military equipment. I was noting, not endorsing, the explanations.

(I should add that I’ve talked about an additional motivation, alliance restraint, in chapter four of Warring Friends.)(Also, whatever led to the original alliance, the fact that it has endured means it has some institutional and organizational staying power.)

2. The Peace Process

There is a split in the United States about the causal logic. Some like Gen. David Petraeus, have argued that solving the peace process is the key to unlocking other regional issues. Others, like former VP Dick Cheney, have argued that addressing other regional issues is a precursor for success in the peace process. (The road to Jerusalem runs through Baghdad.)

Obama and Netanyahu obviously don’t get along that well. But the structural US-Israeli relationship is still strong with military cooperation as deep as it ever has been. Netanyahu does not support a two-state solution that looks anything like what former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was talking about in 2008. (see my comparison here of what different people mean by two states)

3. The Arab Upheaval

The outcome of the Arab protests is an issue of great uncertainty. It could change the strategic equation for Israel if the Syrian regime falls and a new one came to power that is not close to Iran, thereby cutting off Iran’s land connection to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Egypt under Mubarak was tight with Israel but it may also be less so in the post-Mubarak era.

The Palestinians have not adopted the tactics of the Arab “Spring.” They have used similar tactics but not on a mass-scale without the mixing in of some violent tactics, e.g. during the first intifada (uprising), 1987-1993. (I’ll post a longer post on this soon.)

4. Palestine, September, and the UN

The Palestinian appeal to the UN is more bark than bite. The day after, the occupation will still be in force. The Palestinian Authority (PA) prefers negotiations (but talks don’t seem to be an option). Israel fears a UN resolution will lead to violence and is preparing for that prospect. The PA does not think Palestinian violence is likely.

5. Israel

Israel feels a high sense of threat especially from Iran. The majority of Israelis see no Arab partner with whom to make peace – Abbas is weak, Hamas rejectionist. Many Israelis, including the government, believe the world is lined up against Israel. Any pressure reinforces this view. Thus the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement is considered further proof that the world is against Israel, not that Israel needs to change its occupation policy. BDS speaks 1967 and Israelis hear 1948.

Settlement building continues. The Israeli public supports the Netanyahu government, but there are sparks of alternative viewpoints such as the Israel Peace Initiative or other protests.

A vigorous discussion followed! Many thanks to Joyce for the invitation.

June 29, 2011

Netanyahu’s Misleading History

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to the Jewish Agency Board of Governors yesterday. What was his view of history? How did he use it?

1. He used a static view of causes when it worked for him. In short, since Arabs opposed Israel before the occupation began in 1967 as well as after the 1967 war, Netanyahu noted, the occupation itself could not be the cause of Palestinian (and Arab) displeasure with Israel. They must hate and reject Israel in any form. This stance has the added implication that the peace process is of questionable (or no) value because a two-state solution would still leave an Israel for Arabs to hate and attack.

But causes are dynamic. The 1967 War (through the early 1970s) was exactly the pivot point when the central question of the Arab-Israeli conflict changed. From 1948, it had been whether Israel should exist.** Israelis felt their position was tenuous and the Israeli public feared for Israel’s survival on the eve of the 1967 war (though both the Israeli and US governments privately expected Israel to win any war handily). But after Israel had repeatedly demonstrated its military prowess, several key Arab players started to shift: Sadat’s Egypt and then Arafat’s PLO accepted Israel. (Jordan also signed  a treaty in 1994)

The question increasingly became what to do with the Palestinians and the focus was no longer on the territory of pre-1967 Israel but rather on the West Bank and Gaza, the occupied territories. The ground had literally shifted in 1967 and that affected the nature of the conflict. In other words, Israel was state but should the Palestinians exist in the form of a state?

This shift has not been a complete one and important elements of the prior argument are embedded in, say, the Hamas charter. But the much-talked about Israeli-Palestinian negotiated resolution would in any version – US, Abbas, Netanyahu, Peres – leave Israel with as much or more sovereign territory as it had pre-1967 war.

2. His presentation of the Palestinian refugees is misleading and incomplete. Netanyahu:

The second point derives from the first, and that is that the refugee problems are settled in these two respective states – the question of Palestinian refugees will be resolved in the Palestinian state and not in Israel.  Just as the question of Jewish refugees caused by that same Arab assault on Israel in 1948, was resolved within the Jewish state.  The Arab attack, the attack of five Arab armies, with the Palestinians, on the embryonic Jewish state caused two refugee problems.  About 650,000 Palestinian refugees and a somewhat larger number of Jewish refugees expelled from Arab states.  Tiny Israel absorbed all the Jewish refugees and the vast Arab world refused to absorb the Palestinian refugees, and neither justice nor common sense mandates that 63 years later, the Arab world or the Palestinians will come to us and say: Now, absorb the great-great-grandchildren of this part of the refugee problem that we created ourselves.

Note the missing verb: “About 650,000 Palestinian refugees.” The Jewish refugees were “expelled” but there is no verb for the Palestinian ones. The reality is that many of the Palestinians were expelled (e.g. see Yitzhak Rabin’s memoir for one example) and some fled a dangerous war zone. The timing is also wrong since several hundred thousand Palestinians became refugees before Israel declared statehood in May 1948 and thus before the battle between Israel and the Arab states.

Israel was designed to absorb Jews. That was and is its self-defined identity and mission, the ingathering of the exiles. Netanyahu takes pride in this immigration in the speech:

Remember we were 600,000 in 1948 and our population grew over tenfold in 63 years.

That was not the mission of the Arab countries. Maybe you could argue that was the mission of pan-Arabism of the 1950s and 1960s, but pan-Arabism was a failure. Its few attempts at unity, such as Egypt and Syria in the United Arab Republic, were short-lived.

Moreover, Jordan granted citizenship to Palestinian refugees and 41.6% of the refugees live and work in Jordan. Though often mentioned, the blanket claim that “the vast Arab world refused to absorb the Palestinian refugees” is false.

3. Netanyahu has moved the goalposts. For years Israel wanted recognition as the State of Israel. It got recognition. First came Egypt with the peace treaty. Then the PLO in 1988 and again in September 1993 when Arafat wrote:

The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.

Jordan signed a peace treaty in 1994. Syria almost did in 1999-2000, but then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak got cold feet about a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights. (I wrote about it here: “Mediation, Domestic Politics, and the Israeli-Syrian Negotiations, 1991-2000,” Security Studies 16:3, July-September, 2007, pp. 350-381.)

Now Netanyahu wants recognition as a Jewish state as if no one had ever recognized Israel period. There is no acknowledgement of how Israeli policy worked effectively in the past to get recognition of the State of Israel. Of course Bibi wants the Jewish state phrase as a precondition to negotiations because it helps get the PA to make its biggest concession – no refugee right of return to Israel – without getting anything in return such as genuine statehood or Palestinian sovereignty in Arab East Jerusalem.

4. Netanyahu wrongly conflates negotiated outcomes with unilateral ones. Ehud Barak’s government unilaterally withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000. Ariel Sharon did the same in Gaza in 2005. In 2005, I thought this was a bad idea not to coordinate with the PA because it handed the victory to Hamas. Hamas could claim its military fight had caused Israel to flee and without a negotiated context, what could the PA retort?

So Netanyahu took problems from unilateralism (Netanyahu: “We don’t want a repeat of what happened when we withdrew from Gaza or from South Lebanon.”) and applied them to a hypothetical negotiated outcome. That is mixing apples and oranges.

In falling back on these historical manipulations, Netanyahu is not breaking new ground but simply reinforcing the claims that regularly inform the Likud worldview.

**I left aside the revisionist Israeli historians who have strongly challenged the claim that the Arab world was uniformly intent on ending Israel. e.g. Simha Flapan, Avi Shlaim, Ilan Pappe.

June 22, 2011

Bibi’s Savvy Tactics?

Aluf Benn of Ha’aretz wants Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a new governing coalition in order to make a peace deal with the Palestinians possible. His current coalition would not support a two-state solution in any form the PA would accept. Netanyahu, Benn writes, should act now and avoid being blinded by overconfidence:

There is no greater threat to good statesmanship than being drunk with success. This is what brought down some of history’s greatest leaders, and it is what now threatens Netanyahu.

A different aspect of the op-ed struck me as worthy of note: Benn’s appraisal of Netanyahu as a savvy political tactician on every front. In Benn’s view, Netanyahu has handled the Israeli public, Turkey, Obama and the US, Fatah-Hamas, and Abbas well. Everything has worked in his favor.

I can see some of the points, but it seems to gloss over the global delegitimization campaign (which is much more than just the PA/Abbas threat of a September UN resolution). The poor personal relations with Obama could come back to hurt Netanyahu. The Iran issue is far from over. To me, the picture looks quite mixed going forward.

June 21, 2011

Rejecting Land Swaps & More

In a recent rejection of the idea of land swaps as part of a two-state solution, Dore Gold (fmr Israeli Amb. to the US) posed the following question:

 Just because an idea was discussed in the past, does that make it part of the diplomatic agenda in the future, even if the idea was never part of any legally binding, signed agreements?

The question tells us a lot. Whether in terms of Israeli-Palestinian issues or Israeli-Syrian ones, the current Netanyahu government has resolutely refused to pick up where past Israeli governments left off. (As Sharon declined to do in 2001 just after the Taba talks, so Netanyahu has not done in the aftermath of Olmert and Annapolis of 2008.)

This refusal to pick up where talks left off should come as no surprise because to do so would lead the current Government of Israel (GOI) to adopt positions that it does not support. The GOI would rather squander past progress not out of spite but because it does not view those past talks as progress. It is not squandering anything but rather discarding ill-conceived concessions. So while Gold’s question embodies his view of land swaps, it also embodies the view of many other ideas, such as the idea of Palestinian sovereignty in Arab areas of East Jerusalem.

Moreover, Gold’s claim that swaps are not based on “any legally binding, signed agreements” is correct, but it is an argument of convenience. It implies that signed agreements would need to be accepted, something the Likud failed to do in the 1990s under Netanyahu. Yes, Netanyahu did eventually sign the Hebron protocol (1997) and Wye agreement (1998), but those were efforts to renegotiate what had already been agreed to by the Rabin government in Oslo I and II (1993, 1995).

Ideas that do not come to fruition can make a comeback; Gold’s protestations cannot prevent that somewhere in the future (though Israeli settlement expansion might make many of these compromise ideas moot). Oslo I, the Declaration of Principles, was itself based on past ideas for resolving Israeli-Palestinian matters that had not been implemented. Some Oslo ideas were drawn from the Framework for Middle East Peace in the Camp David Accords (1978).

Had Abbas and Olmert signed an agreement in 2008 that a final resolution would be based on land swaps, I would argue that the current GOI would nonetheless reject the idea because they think it is a bad idea. Here’s the real point of Gold’s query: Just because a previous Israeli government was willing to make a concession to the Arabs, it doesn’t mean the current government is willing (or even thinks it would ever be a good idea), signed document or no signed document.

June 20, 2011

The Arab Spring and Israel

In considering the impact of the Arab Spring on Israel, much of the attention has been on two issues, the peace treaty with Egypt and the Israeli-Syrian border. But a fuller picture of the impact offers a more varied set of questions and issues for Israel and in some ways may even bolster Israel’s strategic position. If Asad falls and Iran is left out in the cold by a new Syrian regime, Israel would greatly benefit.

Mubarak’s fall has already changed Egyptian policy at the Rafah border crossing. As has been widely noted, if a working democracy develops in Egypt and public opinion has greater bearing on policy, one would expect greater Egyptian pressure on Israel. But given the close ties between the Mubarak regime and Israeli governments, that still leaves a lot of room for change in Cairo. In other words, Egypt could rigorously adhere to the peace treaty and still act very much unlike Mubarak by pressing Israel on the peace process or its nuclear program, working closely with and advocating for the Palestinians, and in particular, helping Hamas in Gaza.

Whatever has changed and will change in Egyptian governance, the underlying Egyptian-Israeli strategic balance is the same and that suggests limits to Egypt’s revisions of its Israel policy. At the end of the day, the Israel military still could best the Egyptian military. Israel, not Egypt, has nuclear weapons, and Israel is much closer to the United States. To break the treaty and risk open warfare is a recipe for Egyptian military disaster.

Israel’s challenge, however, is the continual need to secure allies in an unfriendly region. Like in 1979 after the fall of Israel’s ally, the Shah of Iran, Israel wants to replace the loss of close friend. Ironically, that the Egyptian-Israeli peace process was at an advanced stage when the Shah fell made that transition easier in 1979 than today. Out went Iran, in came Egypt.

The choice today is not obvious. Israeli-Turkish ties remain strong behind the scenes, but the public aspect is mixed. Israel has accepted Turkish mediation in the past with regard to Syria, but would it do so again in a post-flotilla relationship? Neither of the other aspirants for regional leadership – Iran, Saudi Arabia – are about to get closer to Israel either.

Maybe the answer is to rely even more heavily on the United States. Despite the Obama-Netanyahu differences over the peace process, the US-Israeli strategic relationship is closer than ever. (as Israeli Amb. Michael Oren recently argued in Foreign Policy) The Israeli line: friends must hug each other even tighter in the face of regional storms and upheavals.

The Arab Spring’s mass protest model surely scares the Israeli government, and the intensity of the Israeli reaction along the Syrian border is a testament to that fear. The Palestinians have used such tactics on a smaller scale before, such as in Bil’in on the West Bank. But if tens of thousands of Arabs ever marched on Jerusalem or the Israeli borders and repeated it day after day in the face of Israeli snipers, tear gas, and detention, Israel’s ability to hold the line would weaken. Mass protests create exactly the kind of images Israel would rather avoid seeing plastered across the media and the web. It would make the Netanyahu’s government’s resistance to the American-Palestinian versions of a two-state solution that much more difficult. And it might force average Israeli Jews to confront the occupation in a way they have not had to do over the last couple of years.

Meanwhile, the impact of so many Arab states consumed by internal matters cuts both ways. Israel could become a political football as old and new politicians compete for power. Who can hammer Israel the most has long been political currency in the Arab World and diversionary politics, if not violence, is a recurring trope.

At the same time, the depth of the Arab political mobilization and the many social and economic demands may mean little substantive attention is paid to Israel. Furthermore, if things really deteriorate as in Libya or Syria, one could argue the bloodletting leaves few resources and political energy for anti-Israel tirades and physical confrontations.

Of all the chaos, the future of Syria is central for Israel. If the Asad regime falls, Iran’s core link to the Levant will be broken, assuming a Sunni-led regime in Damascus is less interested in close ties with Tehran. Hamas and Hezbollah may lose not only an ally in Syria but also a link to their Iranian patron. That matters for Israel, and it matters a lot. It would be both a symbolic and political defeat for Iran.

If I were Israel, I’d be happy to trade an Iranian-allied Syria for a more critical Egyptian government.

June 17, 2011

The Four Two-State Solutions

Listening to Rob Malley on Fresh Air yesterday, I was reminded that 1) we tend to assume there is a two-state solution waiting on the shelf and 2) Malley disagrees and thinks maybe we are not as close as we believe: “If we all knew what the solution looked like, if everyone agreed, we probably would be there already.” (starts @ about  31:10)

Part of the problem is the use of the phrase “two-state solution” to imply full agreement when in fact it has multiple meanings. I think we have four versions of the two-state solution. (I am leaving aside the Old City for now in #1 and #2.) All of the versions assume Israel exists alongside Palestine.

1. The Abbas version

Palestinian sovereign capital in East Jerusalem. Palestine in Gaza and 97-98% of the West Bank. 1:1 swaps where Israel annexes at Latrun and narrow territorial version of settlement blocs (Efrat, Maale Adumim but not Ariel). Israel annexes Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem like East Talpiot and Pisgat Zeev. Symbolic right of return (5-25K total) but mostly financial compensation for refugees. Israel would close settlements in Palestine.

No Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley but perhaps international peacekeepers.

2. The Olmert Version

Palestinian sovereign capital in East Jerusalem. Palestine in Gaza and 92-95% of the West Bank. 1:1 swaps where Israel annexes at Latrun and more expansive territorial version of settlement blocs (Efrat, Maale Adumim, Ariel). Israel annexes Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem like East Talpiot and Pisgat Zeev including any post-Oslo areas (like Har Homa or Ramat Shlomo). Possibly symbolic right of return (5-25K) but mostly financial compensation for refugees. Israel probably would close settlements in Palestine.

In other words, very similar to #1 but slightly less for the Palestinians on each issue.

3. The Netanyahu Government

Jerusalem united under Israeli sovereignty. Possibly Palestine could have an office there or something short of sovereignty in an outlying suburb (linking back to something like Abu Dis in the Beilin-Abu Mazen plan of the 1990s). Palestinian religious access to holy sites in Jerusalem. Palestine in Gaza and, say, 50-60% of West Bank. Very constrained Palestinian sovereignty. No Palestinian right of return. International community could provide compensation for Palestinian refugees. Jewish refugees from Arab countries are also a live issue. Palestinians must recognize Israel as Jewish state. Israel might close a few isolated settlements but most would stay in place.

Israeli military presence in Jordan Valley and at Palestine’s border crossings.

4. A Hamas version

Borders along the exact 1967 lines including the entire West Bank (100%) and Gaza Strip. No land swaps or Israeli annexation. All of East Jerusalem, including the Old City, would be under Palestinian sovereignty. As many Palestinian refugees as like, or at least a very large number, would be allowed to return to Israel. Israel would close all settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

No Israeli or international military presence in the Jordan Valley.

The United States and EU are probably most comfortable with variants of #1 and #2. The Arab League (and its 2002 plan) is more with #1 (though Israeli critics tend to see it as #4).

So a lot of people mouth the words two-state solution. But they mean different, sometimes incompatible outcomes.

June 15, 2011

History supports Israeli right wing

How can the current Government of Israel fail to embrace a genuine two-state solution with Arab sovereignty in much of East Jerusalem and 94-98% or so of the West Bank for Palestine? If Likud and other right-wing Israeli parties are aware of the demographic balance (or “threat”); if they want Israel to remain a Jewish state and a democracy; if they know the US, EU, Quartet, Arab League, and most others support such a solution; and if they want to focus on other issues such as Iranian nuclear proliferation, what are they possibly doing offering far, far less then the Palestinian minimum?

I suspect that Zionist/Israeli history of the last 130 years created and reinforced their worldview. Israel should have been an impossible dream. That a movement of a few thousand European Jews could pull off Israeli statehood in 1948? Impossible. Yet it happened. To do so, Israel accepted partition and did not get much of the biblical heartland. Yet just 19 years later, a historical blink of the eye, Israel occupied the West Bank. (1967)

As Israeli Jews, with and without their government’s help, began settling the occupied territories, who suspected that 40+ years later 500,000+ Israelis would live there? When the Oslo process (1993-2001) seemed like it might doom the settlement project, the right wing fought back – literally in the case of the assassination of Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin – and the peace process failed. (with great help from Hamas)

Zionists and the State of Israel have repeatedly been defying the odds. So why not believe that it can be done again, especially when the Israeli right already has the magic formula:

1) establish facts on the ground. Buy land (pre-state) or occupy and expropriate land (post-1948). Build villages, towns, farms, roads, fences, whatever. Move Jews there. Settlements, checkpoints, bypass roads. Facts on the ground change the context. In a best case scenario for the right, they make a two-state solution that requires Israeli withdrawal impossible. They erase the Israeli-Palestinian win-set.

2) rely on military strength, not diplomacy. Ultimately, only military strength can protect Israel in its rough neighborhood. After all, it was Labor activism, not Moshe Sharett’s diplomatic orientation, that won out. Diplomacy may have a role, but not as a relation of two equals with an equal claim on statehood.

In short, the right-wing view is that time is not working against Israel. Dunam by dunam, red-tile roof house by red-tile roof house, Israeli Jews can continue to advance the Zionist project. The world will accede to the changes just as it (almost) always has when countries have expanded.